We knew that AWS could scale to support our requirements and had the security features to protect the information of users who downloaded the application. 
Andrew Burnet Domain Delivery Lead

Established in 2002, Vodafone Foundation Australia supports charities that are using mobile technology to improve the health of Australians. One of 27 Vodafone Foundations worldwide, Vodafone Foundation Australia has donated more than AU$23 million (US$17 million) in charitable contributions, and has partnered with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, a leading medical research organization that focuses on cancer and other diseases.  

Nowadays supercomputers play a vital role in developing treatments for cancer, but there is a lack of computing power that often impedes the speed of development. With billions of smartphones worldwide going unused for hours each night when their owners are asleep, there is a huge source of computational capacity sitting idle. Vodafone Foundation Australia, Vodafone Australia, and Garvan Institute of Medical Research looked to combine the power of these idle devices to create a virtual supercomputer to overcome any shortfalls researchers may face in computing performance. For it to work, smartphone owners simply download an application available on Google Play to enable their device to participate in the scheme.

Vodafone engaged b2cloud, a mobile app developer, to build the application on its behalf. The application would use each smartphone to solve a small research problem while the device was charging. As part of the development process, Vodafone Australia, b2cloud, and the Garvan Institute had to identify a highly scalable infrastructure to support the application. “We had no idea to what extent the application would take off and needed an infrastructure that could support all possibilities,” says Andrew Burnet, Domain Delivery Lead at Vodafone Australia and Board Member at Vodafone Foundation Australia. The infrastructure also had to feature security services capable of protecting the personal data of participants. People who elected to receive quarterly updates on the cancer research program would have the option of providing details such as name, phone number, and email address.  

Vodafone Australia already runs services in an Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure, and the Vodafone Foundation Australia team decided to meet with AWS to discuss its plans. “Our initial discussions were really fruitful as the AWS team understood and was enthusiastic about the benefits of the application. We knew that AWS could scale to support our requirements, and had the security features to protect the information of users who downloaded the application,” says Burnett.

Vodafone Australia, b2cloud, and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research worked closely with an AWS solution architect under the assistance program. Over a 12-month period, they developed the DreamLab application for Android smartphones. “We took full advantage of AWS to launch the application quickly, and got advice about AWS services that could improve the application’s performance, availability, and cost-effectiveness,” says Burnett.

The application runs in an AWS architecture comprised of Amazon Cognito, which is used to save DreamLab application user data and manage identification in the AWS cloud. Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) is used to queue and transmit data sets of publically available DNA information between various AWS services and the application, and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which provides compute resources by running tasks that make data available for the handsets to process. Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is used to store the research data and provide the results once available to Garvan Institute by Amazon EC2. Amazon DynamoDB is a highly scalable NoSQL database that also delivers rapid and predictable performance while keeping the cost low. Amazon CloudWatch provides monitoring and alerts if any of the cloud resources or applications are experiencing sub-optimal performance.

The DreamLab application has its own AWS architecture and is isolated from the AWS architecture running Vodafone Australia applications. As such, people around the world can download the application regardless of their telecommunications provider.

The figure below illustrates Vodafone Foundation Australia’s environment in AWS:

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Vodafone Foundation Australia, Vodafone Australia, and Garvan Institute of Medical Research reduced costs while maximizing the availability of the DreamLab application by choosing an AWS architecture. Vodafone Australia avoided expensive mistakes from miscalculating consumer demand and hence under- or overestimating the amount of physical hardware needed to deliver the application.

To date, smartphone owners have downloaded the DreamLab application 60,000 times, and Vodafone expects the number to exceed 100,000 in the near future as a promotional campaign raises interest. Consumers are also seeing constant improvements to the application as the development team uses feedback and the agility of the AWS architecture to fine tune its functionality. Recent changes include introducing unlimited WiFi, new metrics on progress made, and “play” and “pause” buttons so the application can run even when the smartphone is less than 95 percent charged. “User responses to the DreamLab application are extremely positive. We want to drive this satisfaction level higher to prompt more sharing and downloads,” says Burnett.

Burnet describes working with AWS as “fantastic” and indicates that the potential for DreamLab means its use of AWS is likely to expand in the future. “We’re one of 27 Vodafone Foundations worldwide, so there is the potential for this model to be rolled out globally in other Vodafone markets. We may also look at expanding the application to support research into other illnesses. There are huge opportunities to work with AWS to enhance this model and use it to deliver even greater good,” says Burnett.

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